Cats are self-cleaning pets, but there are situations that call for soap and water. Soaps and products to avoid using on your cat make a longer list than the safe choices because many common household ingredients can cause irritation or result in contact poisoning. Nontoxic options include pet shampoos formulated for cats, unscented baby shampoo and castille soap without essential oils formulated for babies. For some uses, dish soap is an option. If an ill, pregnant, nursing, overweight or old cat isn't grooming herself effectively, consult your veterinarian.
Like humans, cats absorb product ingredients through their skin. She also may ingest product residue when she licks herself. Don't use harsh products such as laundry soap, dishwasher detergent, hand sanitizer, household cleaning products, disinfectant or bleach to clean pets. Vinegar is acidic and can irritate her skin. Common ingredients in products for humans and even in dog shampoos can harm cats, including essential oils such as peppermint, lavender, tea tree and jojoba. Glycerin, a main ingredient in some soaps, can cause loose stools.
Cat Bathing Challenges
If your cat gets smelly or has poop in her fur, you're both going to be more comfortable when she's clean. Add a few drops of mild, unscented liquid soap to a pan of lukewarm water for her bath. If she experiences a bad reaction to a spot-on flea treatment or other product, bathe her right away to stop the irritation and contact your veterinarian.
Although liquid dish soap can strip natural oils from your cat's fur and skin, it's a useful option if your cat runs afoul of motor oil, lard or other greasy messes. If your cat's coat or skin has been exposed to a substance toxic to cats such as tea tree oil, call your vet. Bathe her with dish soap to remove the toxic substance.
Natural Soap and Safe Alternatives
Pure castille soap is made from an olive oil base. Natural castille products contain no animal ingredients and are free of chemicals and dyes. Castille liquid or bar soap for babies lathers well with water for cat bathing. Rinse the cat well after lathering. Continue gently applying fresh water to your cat until the water runs clear. She'll appreciate not having to lick soap residue, no matter how pure and natural the source.
Baby shampoos are formulated to be gentle for a baby's scalp. Many commercial baby shampoos still contain dyes and other unnecessary ingredients, and not all products labeled "natural" are equal in quality. Read labels carefully when you're shopping for a safe cat soap.
Veterinarians, pet supply vendors, drug stores and even many grocery stores carry shampoo designed for cats. Although like any product, quality varies and not all manufacturers share the same standards in regard to natural ingredients and environmentally friendly products. Consumer demand for products made from wholesome ingredients and free of unnecessary chemicals, dyes and additives has led to a wider choice of safer products.
If you want to wash your cat to reduce allergens, plain water is all you need. A weekly rinse helps reduce the dander that can cause allergic reactions.